Ransomware is one of your business’s most dangerous cyber threats, with a single infection threatening data encryption, exfiltration, and extortion.
As ransomware evolves, you must understand the common infection methods to implement proactive security. This article outlines the 7 most common ways ransomware can infiltrate your devices and networks, ranging from phishing emails to messaging apps to brute-force credential stuffing.
- Breach through phishing and social engineering
The number one infection vector is phishing emails containing malicious attachments or links. Attackers use social engineering tactics and impersonation to craft targeted emails that trick users into enabling macros or downloading files that execute malware. Documents may appear legitimate but contain embedded malicious code.
- Infection via compromised websites
Websites can be compromised to insert malicious code without the user’s knowledge. The site can redirect victims to download fake software updates that contain ransomware. These situations are difficult for users to detect.
- Malvertising and browser exploitation
Malvertising involves inserting malicious code into legitimate online ads. If a user’s browser has an unpatched vulnerability, the malware payload can download and execute without any action from the user. This is a less common but still dangerous infection route.
- Exploit kits delivering custom malware
Widely used exploit kits contain pre-written exploits that target vulnerabilities in browsers, plugins, and operating systems. Kits like Angler and Neutrino have distributed ransomware through compromised sites and malvertising using exploits.
- Infected files and downloads
Any downloaded file or application could contain ransomware. Illegal software and keygens often distribute malware. Attackers can also inject infected files into downloads on otherwise legitimate websites. Executing these files starts the infection.
- Messaging apps spreading malware
Messaging platforms like WhatsApp can disguise ransomware as image files that bypass filters. Once accessed, the image redirects users to a site prompting them to install malware that spreads to contacts.
- Brute force attacks on RDP
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) enables remote administration of endpoints but also gives attackers an enticing target for brute force attacks.
Hackers can scan the internet for devices with open RDP ports and attempt to guess weak credentials using password-cracking tools. Once logged in, they can turn off security tools, destroy backups, and distribute ransomware across networks.
RDP brute force allows ransomware like SamSam to infect entire systems after compromising a single endpoint. Defending against this requires strong passwords for all admin accounts and multi-factor authentication.
With all these threats, staying safe requires a focus on prevention through AI-powered threat detection, network segmentation, endpoint hardening, password hygiene, and user education with a tool like SentinelOne.
While ransomware techniques will continue advancing on all operating systems, following cybersecurity best practices can reduce risks.